I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

12 May 2012

Fun with Numbers is Not That Fun.

So all the stick-waving, press-chatting, and negotiation-ending between the District and the teachers' union is getting serious!  The District has declared (and gotten state agreement for) impasse!  The teachers voted to authorize a strike vote!  I tell you, the exclamation points are flying!

Not that it's not all serious business, but some of it just strikes me as posturing (every quote the Superintendent gives) and some of it is just irritating.

To wit: the numbers.  The District is - as always - looking down the barrel of a loaded Sharpie, and the color?  is RED.  Since the District is against state takeover (the Superintendent would lose his job!), all that red doesn't make the District happy.

But the problem is that the District is always seeing red.  It's like one of the Ksters has gotten to the teacher markers again and miscapped them, because in the end the District is always in the black.  Moreover, the reserves grow.

Some of this is the propensity of districts to plan in cycles so that the farthest year out includes some total catastrophe: it's just good (if somewhat paranoid) sense.  But when you get down to the brass tacks of how the District is planning its budget, geeks like myself see that it's not just tax increase passes/tax increase fails.  The District's worst case scenario budget includes every worse case possible: they get nothing from their various unions, ever, every lousy proposal in the Governor's budget resurrected from the old Governor's budgets passes, the state never makes good on its various IOUs, etc.

Given the last negotiations - wherein teachers gave up a lot, and the District promised an equity report but didn't release one - or even write it - and that upper management would give up even more and they sure didn't, it would be exceptionally naive to believe the numbers they present.

It's similarly true that the union's numbers aren't quite right, either.  The District has to maintain a reserve unless it is courting state takeover (although honestly, if the District's worst case scenario numbers are for real, every District in the state is going under).  Certain other new cash streams are restricted, not General Fund.  And so on.

The entire process would be easier if all parties could agree on one set of numbers.  This is of course impossible, given the lack of firm numbers from the state (well, it's firm that the numbers are gloomy and getting gloomier, but still: the Governor's proposal and his May revise is not a budget passed by the Legislature).  But it would be possible for more realistic numbers - no doomsday scenarios, no counting the transportation money - to be shared.

The onus is on the District, though.  Two years ago, teachers single-handedly closed their (theoretic) budget deficit.  I personally took a five thousand dollar pay cut to help the District.  Our thanks from the District is to be asked to give up all that and more, and to agree to permanent contract changes that will forever reduce our compensation.  That is not sharing the burden - it's glorying in the silver lining of a bad budget.  And it's proof that District administrators are completely removed from the actuality of their mandate to educate the children of San Francisco.  What they want is an even shorter school year with more students and fewer materials in each classroom.  Each classroom is to be led by a teacher who will receive less pay and fewer professional development opportunities while being expected to provide an even greater level of service as paraprofessionals, counselors, nurses and the like are laid off.

What the District lacks is courage.  Hiding behind red numbers doesn't make it okay to destroy that for which you are responsible.

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